When a publisher like Square Enix gets hold of the Marvel license, you naturally expect big things - and even more so when the word, “Avengers”, is uttered.
But it’s fair to say that last year’s video game take on everyone’s favourite ragtag society of superheroes was a mixed bag, with a host of performance issues hurting the live-service title at launch, and grindy post-game content failing to give players much incentive to stick around once the entertaining campaign was done with.
It’s perhaps not surprising that a Guardians of the Galaxy game is coming next, but we certainly wouldn’t have put any money on it being the story-driven, entirely single-player third-person action game unveiled at E3.
In Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, you play exclusively as Peter Quill, better known as Star-Lord, the self-appointed leader of the intergalactic outlaws known as the Guardians of the Galaxy, in an original, comics-inspired adventure that we’ve played roughly two hours of. And spoiler alert: we had a blast.
Our hands-on with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy plonked us straight in at chapter five, which we were told is about four hours into the campaign. Clearly at this point a lot of space-based hijinks has already gone down, but as we grab the controller we find the squabbling Guardians heading to pay a fine to the Nova Corps, essentially the intergalactic police.
Save for the first few minutes shooting through the stars on Star-Lord's iconic Milano, the entire demo took place on a (at least initially) mysteriously quiet Nova HQ ship, and without spoiling anything plot-related, let’s just say that the Guardians receive a more hostile reception than they were expecting.
What stood out to us was how much of the game, or at least what we played of it, is spent just exploring, ordering the Guardians around (note: they won't always listen) and enjoying banterous to-and-fro between the gang. MCU fans might initially find it jarring that we’re not listening to Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper and co. here, but we very quickly settled into the game’s cast.
Drax’s wonderfully blunt delivery is as amusing here as it is on the big screen and in the comics, while Rocket Raccon’s sneering dismissal of most of Quill’s ideas is bang on the money. The game often employs a dialogue tree that allows you to mould your own Star-Lord. It’s far from an RPG, but you will have to make decisions in the heat of the moment and at one point we were told that the rest of the gang would remember a choice we made. Presumably that particular moment will come up again later in the narrative.
As fun as it is to watch Groot wandering around an empty spaceship trying to make sense of it all in his own special way, eventually it’s time to fight.
In Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy you only play as Star-Lord (no co-op either), but in combat you have control over everyone’s moveset. The AI-controlled Guardians will happily scrap away alongside you, but by holding L1 (we played on PS5) you can tell any member of the team to use one of their unique abilities, which are unlocked as you gain ability points.
Using these moves is crucial to overcoming the waves of enemies you’ll face, as they do far more damage than standard attacks. Star-Lord’s Eye of the Hurricane - you bring up Quill’s own ability wheel by tapping L3, which felt a bit fiddly to us - sees him spiralling into the air and chucking a flurry of grenades beneath him. It looks great and is very effective. Gamora’s Shadow Strike sees her dash between enemies striking each one as she goes, while Groot can grapple enemies in place using branches, allowing you to unload on them without retaliation.
Quill also has his trademark Element Gun, whose secondary fire is able to conjure the four elements. In our demo the only one unlocked was the ability to freeze enemies, which was unsurprisingly effective. Throw in perks - unlocked at workbenches - such as a more powerful charged shot, special team attacks triggered by on-screen button prompts, and revival opportunities for downed teammates, and there’s a lot for one person to think about. It’s all a bit chaotic at first, but once you’ve adjusted to the game’s rhythm the combat is a lot of fun.
Give us a huddle
And we’ve not even mentioned the "huddles" yet, the in-game moments that really make this feel like an authentic Guardians of the Galaxy video game. At certain points during combat, you’ll be given the opportunity to trigger a huddle, where the action temporarily freezes and you have the opportunity to give your fellow Guardians a pep talk.
What is said during these sequences seems to depend on how the fight is going. The first time it happened in our hands-on we were, for want of a batter phrase, getting our backsides handed to us, and the gang needed a bit of encouragement from cap'n' Star-Lord. A bit later on it happened again, but this time - and we had admittedly knocked the game’s difficulty down to easy at this point - we were on fire, and the vibe was so good that Gamora could hardly wait to get back out there.
Either way, though, you leave these Huddles recharged and ready to fight, helped by a song from Quill’s typically ‘80s-fuelled mixtape. If the combat was entertaining before, it increases tenfold when you’ve got Gary Numan or Bonnie Tyler spurring you on, even if the music can occasionally get a bit lost amid all the gunfire, exploding bombs and wisecracks.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy initial verdict
We need to play a lot more before making any conclusions, but on first impressions it definitely feels like developer Eidos-Montréal understands how a Guardians of the Galaxy game should play, look and sound, and we’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of the story unfolds. There's nothing remotely ground-breaking going on here but it's breezy, well-paced fare from what we've seen so far.
It was a bold decision to go fully single-player after the co-op focus of Marvel’s Avengers, but we’re confident that it was the right one. Stay tuned for a full review ahead of launch next month.